SYRACUSE, Sicily (AP) _ A moderate earthquake shook eastern Sicily early Thursday, killing 19 people and injuring about 200, panicking thousands and destroying part of a small town, officials said.

Worst hit was Carlentini, a town of 10,000 people between Catania and Syracuse, where members of five families were killed when their homes crumbled on top of them as they slept.

The quake struck at about 1:30 a.m. (5:30 p.m. Wednesday EST) and registered 4.7 on the Richter scale, the Ministry of Civil Protection reported. It was followed by dozens of aftershocks during the day.

''There was a huge roar all of a sudden. Everything shook,'' said Sebastiano Valvo, an employee at the Syracuse prefect's office.

The bodies of 13 people were pulled from the rubble in Carlentini. They included two elderly couples; a woman, her two daughters and two grandchildren; a 32-year-old bar owner; and a couple and their 18-month-old daughter.

The bar owner's wife died of her injuries in the hospital in Lentini.

In addition, four elderly people from the Catania area and one person from Niscemi, west of Syracuse, died of heart attacks after the quake, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

A rescue worker in Carlentini told ANSA that he found the bodies of Sebastiano Musumeci, his wife Francesca and their 18-month-old daughter Veronica together.

''They're all hugging in a big bed,'' the unidentified worker was quoted as saying. ''Maybe they were in such a deep sleep that they didn't even understand what happened. Let's hope it was like that.''

The couple's 5-year-old son Rosario escaped.

About 200 people were injured, the Italian news agency AGI said. The quake caused at least $400 million in damage, according to the prefect's office in Syracuse.

Up to 2,500 people were left homeless by the quake, said the Civil Protection Ministry.

Rescue crews dug through wreckage under a driving rain to try to find survivors.

In Carlentini, officials said they would set up a huge tent on the village sports field to shelter some of the 1,300 people left homeless. Two neighborhoods were badly damaged and at least five people were seriously injured.

In other cities and towns along the coast, chunks of concrete were shaken off buildings and hurled into the streets.

Numerous churches were declared unsafe and closed. Prisoners from a jail in the town of Noto were transferred to other facilities after they spent much of the frigid, rainy hours after the quake sleeping in the prison courtyard.

The mayor of Syracuse, Gaetano Bandiera, asked the region's prefect to proclaim a state of emergency.

The quake's epicenter was in the Gulf of Noto about 30 miles southeast of Syracuse, said the National Institute of Geophysics.

Local and regional authorities rushed to find shelter for those unable to return to their shaky dwellings.

In the city of Augusta, the mayor requisitioned a holiday village to provide dwellings for 1,500 people. In Catania, a visiting circus made available its heated tent for victims of the earthquake.

The mayor of Priolo, working with local businesses, dished out hot meals for those in need.

Police reported a few cases of looting in areas hit by the earthquake. Two men were arrested in Carlentini on robbery charges.

Sicily, an island just west of the Italian mainland's toe, has been struck several times by major earthquakes.

In 1968, nearly 400 people died in a quake. In 1908, a quake leveled the city of Messina, killing 83,000 people.

The Richter scale is a gauge of the energy released by an earthquake, as measured by the ground motion recorded on a seismograph.

An earthquake of magnitude 4 can cause moderate damage, while a quake of magnitude 5 can cause considerable damage.